With the recent touch-screen revolution there has been rampant speculation about the future of touch-screen technology. This is one case where the speculation might actually fall short of the reality. Take a short trip into the future and see what might be.
Touch-screen technology has the potential to revolutionize every moment of our daily lives. While this statement may seem grandiose, visionaries at Corning have already produced a video that imagines a future in which touch screens are embedded in everyday objects. These are not the interfaces that we’ve seen in movies like Minority Report or The Matrix Revolutions but are more like the touch-screen tablets that we already have today. Take a moment and watch Corning's video.
While this may seem like something that is 50 or more years in the future there are currently micro-thin resistor panels that can be placed over non-conductive surfaces to create a touch screen out of anything. The Visual Planet Company has what amounts to a microfoil application that can change any surface into a touchscreen capable of either single-touch or multi-touch functions. Of course, the units are cost prohibitive at the moment, but they do exist. This isn’t science fiction. It’s science reality. Take a moment to check out the company's YouTube site.
Now that you’ve seen the Corning vision of the future and the current touch-screen technology that is available overseas, let’s talk about the touch-screen home. Corning gives us several intriguing examples of where touch screens could be located and some of the things they might be able to do, but they don’t really get into the technology behind it. To begin to understand how come of the things you’ve seen may be possible we’ll have to start with a discussion of microprocessors and Moore’s Law.
Future Touch Screen
Moore’s law states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every eighteen months. This is important because the more transistors that can be placed on a circuit board the more processing power the unit will have and thus the faster it will be able to perform calculations. The reason that these circuits can be integrated is that they are becoming smaller and smaller. Thus they can be placed within even the smallest touch-screen surfaces. Processors that are as powerful as your laptop could be as small as the head of a pin within ten years.
The implications of this rapid advancement of technology are that almost everything in our current homes could have integrated circuits that could be controlled via the internet by a main computer housed in the utility room of the home.
High-tech homes are just around the corner. With the introduction of RFID tags on many consumer goods a properly equipped home could readily inventory everything in the home and create lists of necessary items for the owner to purchase or could even order them itself. Instead of merely connecting to the Internet to allow us to read our email while brushing our teeth, our intelligent mirrors could keep track of the contents of a medicine cabinet and remind us to take our medication. Refrigerators could keep running tabs on their contents and even suggest meals based on what is available.
While all of this would make the home more convenient the biggest boon to having smart appliances is that they could recognize when something was wrong with them and report it to you like an early warning system. Let’s say the dishwasher notices a problem with the water pressure or the hot water heater is experiencing unusually high temperatures; these units could shut themselves down and report the problem to you immediately by sending an email to your cell phone. All of these appliances would be interfaced with a similar system to what is currently being marketed by the Planet Vision Company.
Some homes already have automated systems controlled by a central computer system. These systems can turn the lights on and off, adjust the temperature in the home and even monitor the home for potential burglar activity.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for touch-screen technology. We’ve already seen prototypes of touch-screen tables at CES 2008. Microsoft has started to distribute tables in restaurants on the west coast like the ones seen in this video of digital content surfaces. The potential for units like this is astronomical. The displays can be horizontal, vertical or even curved and can be mounted to almost any surface. Imagine walking into your favorite eating establishment and ordering from a full picture menu and having access to all of the information about how the food is prepared, where the ingredients come from plus a suggested beverage accompaniment, and then when you are done you can set your credit card down on the surface and pay without having to wait for the waiter or waitress. Technology like this could streamline almost all transactions and eliminate unnecessary wait times at grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, fast food establishments and home improvement stores, virtually anywhere.
Where Will It Lead?
With the rate at which technology is advancing there is no doubt that we will begin to see several of these touch-screen applications during our lifetime--in fact, we're starting to see them already. We've already seen full screen video walls, and the possibility of full touch-screen walls is only days away. Soon our reality will be augmented with transparent touch-screen devices. Not long after that, we may find that the screens will disappear altogether, leaving us with with a completely virtual holographic experience.